Carnival’s Sending Sunshine to Charleston

A sunlit Carnival Sunshine steaming to her next port-of-call

PHOTO: A sunlit Carnival Sunshine steaming to her next port-of-call. (photo courtesy of Carnival Corporation & plc)
Carnival Cruise Line is staying put in South Carolina.The cruise liner is gearing up to homeport the Carnival Sunshine in Charleston. The newer and larger ship will replace the Carnival Ecstasy and depart from South Carolina year-round on four- and five-day voyages.

“With its convenient location and strong tourism appeal, Charleston is one of our most popular homeports and we’re delighted to build upon this success with the deployment of Carnival Sunshine,” said Christine Duffy, president of Carnival Cruise Line, in a press release.

“Carnival Sunshine not only provides guests sailing from Charleston with a newer, larger ship with so much to see and do but also underscores our commitment to our year-round operations from this port.”

The 3,002-guest vessel boasts more elaborate amenities, including more than 550 staterooms with private balconies. Other grand features include a sizable WaterWorks aqua park and SportSquare recreation area, plus triple decker adults-only retreat complete with waterfall and pool.

“The decision by Carnival Cruise Line to homeport the Carnival Sunshine in Charleston is an important affirmation of their success and commitment to operations in Charleston,” added Jim Newsome, South Carolina Ports Authority (SCPA) president and CEO, in the release.

“SCPA’s cruise business is an important part of our maritime commerce mission and diversification of business segments. The Port succeeds through having world-class brands, such as Carnival Cruise Line, as its direct customers and looks forward to continuing this productive relationship.”

Approximately 220,000 passengers are expected to be carried onboard annually from the cruise port with each having a wide array of attractions to enjoy. The ship was dramatically converted from the Carnival Destiny in 2013 and now includes tons of dining and entertainment options ranging from the Havana Bar and Ji Ji Asian Kitchen to “Hasbro, The Game Show” and The Punchliner Comedy Club.

The ship’s new Charleston cruises will begin to set sail May 18, 2019. Four-day cruises will depart for Nassau. Five-day itineraries will head for Nassau and the private Bahamian island of Half Moon Cay.

Terry Thornton, Carnival’s SVP of Itinerary Planning told TravelPulse:

“We’ve been working on this for at least a couple of years. We knew that Charleston market was a fabulous market. We’ve known it for a very long time, and we knew that there was plenty of demand to support a newer and larger ship. Between 2016 and 2017, we actually operated 11 different cruises on the Carnival Sunshine from Charleston and we learned so many things about improving the guest experience and making all of the logistics work well. But also what we learned was they were really really popular.”

“They were very successful. The guest satisfaction ratings were very high, and so we knew we were onto a winner. So, it was time then to go ahead and bring the Carnival Sunshine to Charleston in May of ’19 and it brings so many things to the market that we haven’t had before.”

Of course, there’s still love for the older Fantasy-class vessel too.

“The Carnival Ecstasy that’s operating there now is a great ship,” said Thornton, “and it’s doing very very well. But this will allow us to evolve in Charleston so it will bring a whole host of new features to the Charleston market: Everything from the dining which will now have a fully-functioning Fahrenheit 555 Steakhouse, Ji Ji Asian Kitchen, the BlueIguana Cantina and—a feature that people love across our fleet now—the Guy’s Burger Joint. Those are all going to be available on the Sunshine.

“It has a spectacular three-level Serenity adults-only section of the outdoor decks which people love. Families are really important to us in the Charleston market as they are across our fleet, and there’s so many things for the kids to do now: Everything from our really popular Dr. Seuss program to things we’re doing on all the outdoor decks now.

“But this has a really great water park. It has two large racing slides and the fully-functioning kids water park, and then we’ve just done a great job in terms of our children’s programming and so forth. So, it’s going to be really great for families.

“And one thing that the Carnival Ecstasy lacked that we really wanted to bring to the market were staterooms with private balconies,” continued Thornton. “We have a hundred of them on the Carnival Ecstasy, but we’re going to have over 500 of them on the Carnival Sunshine. So, it’s going to just provide that feature that people love today—you know the fact that having a private balcony is very popular today and people want to be in their stateroom with the great views of the sea while the ship’s at sea.”

Besides the regular sailings, there will also be a special 11-day Carnival Journeys cruise available onboard during December 3-14, 2019.

“It goes to these kinds of great places: St. Thomas, Aruba, Bonaire—so we’re all the way down in the really deep part of the southern Caribbean—Grand Turk and Half Moon Cay, which is our private island in the Bahamas. So, it’s just a very unique thing,” continued Thornton.

“We bring onboard a lot of the onboard programming and features that we used to do on our cruises back in time. We have the grand midnight buffet. We have the waiters with the white glove service at certain times. We call the daily program today the Fun Times. (Back in the day it was called Carnival Capers.) We’ve gone back to Carnival Capers. So, we bring back some of the features that we used to do a long time ago that our guests love and that still resonate with guests today, but it kind of has a throwback feel to it if you want to think about it that way.”

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Mariner of the Seas getting massive makeover

Mariner of the Seas

Royal Caribbean International plans a major improvement in its short-cruise product, starting with a massive makeover of the 14-year-old Mariner of the Seas.

Speaking to a conference of Cruise One/Dream Vacations and Cruises Inc. agents aboard the Harmony of the Seas, Royal Caribbean president Michael Bayley said the line will spend over $100 million on the ship.

Plans call for a six-week drydock in Cadiz, Spain, in March and April. Bayley said it is the most money Royal Caribbean has ever spent renovating a ship.

“I’m calling it a modernization, not a refurbishment,” Bayley said. “We’re going to be adding concepts and redoing concepts,” he said.

When the work is finished, the 3,114-passenger Mariner will sail three- and four-day cruises from Miami. The ship is currently sailing in Asia.

The move will coincide with the June 2018 opening of the newly constructed dock at Coco Cay, Royal Caribbean’s private island in the Bahamas, which will play a major role in the Mariner’s itineraries.

Bayley hinted there is more reinvestment yet to be disclosed. “It is attached to the Mariner and it is attached to the idea of boosting up the shore experience,” he said.

He said that the combined ship-shore package will be a “game changer” in the short-cruise market.

In May 2016, the Empress of the Seas started sailing short cruises after a $50 million renovation. That ship is now doing four-, five- and six-day cruises from Tampa on Caribbean itineraries that include Cuba.

The only other cruise line to spend more than $100 million in a single refurbishment was Carnival, which refitted the Carnival Destiny and renamed it the Carnival Sunshine in 2013 at a cost of $155 million.

Cruise shipbuilding versus ship refurbishments

Cruise Ship Building yardUnlike the scheduled cruise ship refurbishments, major refits may include even a cruise ship lengthening, like in the case of Royal Caribbean ship Enchantment of the Seas lengthened in 2005 (see the photo below). The Enchantment ship lengthening cost ~ US$55 million, it was a process of cutting the ship in two and inserting a whole new 73 ft (22 m) 3,500 tons midsection, pre-built at the Aker Finnyards. The month-long dry-dock at the Keppel Verolme shipyards (Rotterdam, The Netherlands) resulted in adding 151 brand new cabins, a 50% bigger Pool Deck area, a new kids area, a teen center, several new bars and lounges, an expanded main dining room, a new specialty restaurant. This “refurbishment cost” record was recently beaten by the CCL line and the US$155 million Carnival Destiny refit 2013 producing a brand new ship named Carnival Sunshine!

The average cost of building a cruise ship is around US $450 for mid-sized vessels and up to $800 million for bigger cruise ships. These prices, along with the current economy status force many cruise lines to hold off from building new ships – the biggest expense of all. As a rule, all new cruise ships on order/currently under construction are by contracts signed years ago when the dollar had a good rate.

cruise ship builders and refurbishment companies (firms)Cruise ship building prices are high enough to not meet the return requirement. Even the mighty Carnival Corporation (the largest cruise company in the world) puts its ship building plans on hold. Royal Caribbean is one of the few companies continuing to place orders for new ships – and not any ships, but the ever largest, the most innovative, the most expensive in the world. Still, most passenger ship lines are trying to keep their current fleet fresh and good looking. Two of the best examples are Holland America with its $450 million SOE program for ship renovations, and Carnival investing over $250 million to fully refit and refurbish 8 of its oldest vessels.